With this unit plan, students explore the Underground Railroad, acting as both researchers and passengers as they learn about the slaves who found their freedom and leaders such as Harriet Tubman.
- Analyze the contributions of the historical figure Harriet Tubman
- Demonstrate an understanding of life on the Underground Railroad by presenting information
- If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
- Harriet Tubman Presentation
- Computer and projector
- Whiteboard and markers
- Tape or magnets (to attach paper to a whiteboard)
- Map of the United States
- Post-It notes in three different colors, one of each color per pair of students
- 9- by 9-inch squares of white paper, one sheet per pair of students
- Colored pencils
- Railroad Car Template printable
- Train Engine Template printable
- Print, copy, and cut out slides of the Harriet Tubman Presentation. Each table group or pair of students will need a complete set of the slides. You should mix up the order of each set before handing them out, as students will be tasked with ordering them chronologically.
- Copy pages from If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine. You will need one page for each pair of students.
- Print one copy of the Train Engine Template printable.
- Print a copy of the Railroad Car Template printable for each pair of students.
Students should have basic knowledge of what slavery is and how the North and the South had extremely different views about slavery.
Day 1: Introduction to Harriet Tubman
Step 1: Open a class discussion by talking about the purpose of a railroad and a conductor.
Step 2: Ask students if they have any prior knowledge about the Underground Railroad. Use the computer and projector to share the Harriet Tubman Presentation with the class. Then give each table group or pair of students one of the copied sets of the Harriet Tubman Presentation slides.
Step 3: Explain to students that they will be working together to place the events of Harriet Tubman's life in order.
Step 4: Draw a time line on the board from Youth — to — Adult
Step 5: Call on a student to place the first slide in order on the time line using tape or a magnet. Continue calling on students to place all of the slides on the time line.
Step 6: After all slides have been placed on the time line, mark on the United States map the trail that Tubman followed.
Step 7: Draw on the board a large Venn Diagram, labeling one section "Tubman's Railroad" and another section "Actual Railroad."
Step 8: Distribute the colored Post-It notes to student pairs. Explain to students that one color is for similarities between the two railroads, one color is for information about Tubman's Railroad, and the last color is for information about actual railroads.
Step 9: Ask pairs of students to contrast Tubman's railroad with an actual railroad by writing a fact or description of each on the respective Post-It notes. Have each pair of students compare the two railroads by writing similarities on their remaining Post-It notes.
Step 10: Lead a discussion by having the pairs come to the board to place their Post-It notes in the correct place on the Venn Diagram.
Step 11: Wrap up the discussion by asking students how life would have been different if Tubman had not been a courageous leader.
Day 2: Creating the Train
Step 12: Call on students to share what they recall about Tubman. Ask students for the definition of the word "underground" and remind them it also means to be done in secret or concealed.
Step 13: Pass out one of the copied pages of the book If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and a 9- by 9-inch square of plain white paper to each pair of students.
Step 14: Have each student pair read their page together and write a summary or fact on their sheet of paper. They should include an illustration if appropriate.
Step 15: While students are completing their reading and summarizing assignment, tape the Train Engine Template printable to the whiteboard. Tape the copies of the Railroad Car Template printable behind the train engine to create a train.
Step 16: Have student pairs come up to the whiteboard one at a time to share their summaries and illustrations with the class. The first pair should tape their square of paper inside the rectangle of the Railroad Car Template directly behind the Train Engine Template. Each pair after that should tape their squares to the Railroad Car Template behind the last pair's.
Step 17: Have all students sign their names on the Train Engine Template. This represents that they are helping lead and conduct the train and are supporters of equality.
Step 18: Wrap up the activity by having students respond verbally or via writing to the following:
- Tubman's quote, "I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and can say what most conductors can’t say. I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger."
- How would history have changed if Tubman had been caught?
- What would have happened if Tubman had never gone back to help more slaves?
Supporting All Learners
- Pairing readers of various levels allows stronger readers to assist readers with less developed skills.
- Having visual slides of the Tubman's life and the timeline allows students to associate written text with content.
- Having visual representations of as much of the vocabulary as possible facilitates the connection between text and content.
- Downloading a video about Tubman or the Underground Railroad also provides students with more background of the content.
- Using different colors of Post-it notes helps distinguish the difference between compare and contrast.
- Have students complete a biography project on various anti-slavery leaders.
- Have advanced students write a compare-and-contrast paper on the attitudes and laws of the North and the South.
- Have advanced students research the causes and effects of the Civil War.
Students can have a discussion with their parents on who the parents or grandparents view as current leaders or heroes. Students and parents can discuss ways they can be positive role models at home for their community. Students can bring comments to class to share.
- Each table group puts Harriet Tubman Presentation slides in order
- Each pair of students records comments for the Venn Diagram
- Each student completes and shares a summary square for the train
- Were students on task during the activity?
- Were the groups/pairs divided up appropriately?
- Were students able to place the slides in the correct order?
- Were students able to summarize the pages of the book? Was the text too easy/difficult for some?
- Were the responses to the wrap up questions appropriate?